For a lot of people navigating government systems and services can be extremely challenging especially when it comes to those where English may not be the first language or where systems and processes are so complex it renders people both powerless and useless. At the World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference held in Perth recently I sat in on a presentation by the First Nations Housing Project – an organisation that seeks to ensure people stay in their homes. For some in the room they were struggling at first to understand the connection between housing and suicide prevention until some examples were presented.
The First Nations Housing Project work with Indigenous people and families in Western Australia when it comes to ensuring they stay in their homes and, in doing so, are the front line when it comes to supporting people navigating through a very challenging system.
For example did you know some Government housing programs have a three strikes policy? Break the rules that govern you and you’re out and some of the things that can lead to eviction include keeping a messy backyard right thought to the rent being late. According to members of the audience the residential tenancy act needed to be changed to make it easier to evict Government housing tenants that it does those in the open market.
The stories themselves can be harrowing. One was a grandmother who received an eviction notice and had packed her car ready to go thinking she had no other options. Not only was she the primary carer of her two grandchildren (whose parents were in Jail) she was also the sole income provider. Like many carers thrown into the position of looking after their grandchildren the costs mount up and there is not always a lot of financial support available to you. Then imagine not knowing where to turn to for help when receiving an eviction notice.
Another example is sorry business. Now, to the outside world of non-Indigenous people it may be a hard concept to grasp but I’ll try and educate you. Something happens in a family like a death and you open your home for those coming from interstate. You provide a roof over their heads, food and support and, in doing so, you might let your bills slip because your priority changes to one of financial welfare to family well-being. Or a sick relative needs somewhere to stay in the City for treatment for kidney failure and you again open your home. When it comes to Indigenous people from across the world the focus on family and whanau (Maori for family) changes your priorities in times of need.
So, once again the rent sometimes slips and it becomes harder to keep up with things. The eviction notices roll in and no one quite understands what you’re talking about, think you’re just making up excuses and pretty much taking the mickey – you give up. The truth is a lot of Indigenous people find it hard to interact with someone or something who just does not understand.
Its not just in housing where these problems occur – of systems that just don’t work for people and instead often work against them. The health sector is another example – take the case of a sixteen year old Aboriginal boy who presents to the emergency department of a city Hospital. He is suffering from a drug overdose. Almost immediately the stereotypes roll in and either consciously or unconsciously staff look at him differently – just another Aborigine with a drug problem. And yet, he attempted to take his life because he was struggling with his sexual identity, fearful his parents and family would find out, had no history of drug taking and was attempting to take his life using drugs.
In the education system, policing and corrections the same is true. The mix of non-co-designed services combined with forms of bias help to push Indigenous people into a position where they are left out, excluded, live life on the fringe and, therefore, constantly show up amongst the highest per head of population statistics around town. Currently we operate very much on a deficit model whereas we should be operating to identify positive methods of engagement and support.
One way of addressing the deficit model is heading down the path of ensuring co-design and design led methods are employed. That means ensuring Indigenous communities and people are sitting at the table and not just turning up for the welcome to country or Karakia, have a cup of tea, leave with the aim being someone just ticked a box so they had engaged. That’s not engagement.
This change in thinking has to be made by those who procure services and programs and they must ask the question of what the service provider has done to engage in design and prove it. Its in the procurement process that we can make and force the biggest change. The second change must be recognition at the service layer that engagement must be more than just a one off meeting or a cup of tea – it has to be a sustained co-design process, inclusive, regular and accountable.
And, in all reality, these same organisations can’t just be using the co-design method as a buzz word. It’s time for change and its time for Indigenous people not only to be at the table and remain at the table, they should also be given the right to lead.
With thanks to Professor’s Pat Dudgeon and Tom Calma, the University of Western Australia and the Centre for Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) and in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project (ATSISPEP). The many sponsors and supporters who attended the conference, the many attendees and the elders of the land on which we met.
About the author: Matthew Tukaki is the Chair of the Suicide Prevention Australia, Chair of the National Maori Authority, Ngangaru, Chair of the Auckland District of the New Zealand Maori Council and a member of the national executive of New Zealand Maori Council
Keep an eye on the conference website for updates on the draft recommendations and where from here: http://ispc2018.com/
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